Can the Afghan underground sneakernet survive the Taliban?
When the Taliban captured the town of Herat on August 12, Yasin and his colleagues speculated that it wouldn’t be long before invading Taliban forces took control of their own town of Mazar. i-Sharif.
âThings were tense in Mazar too, so me and other computers kars de Mazar who work together held a secret meeting to decide what to do to protect all of our content, âhe said. Among them, the informal IT union kars had collected several hundred terabytes of data over several years, and much of it would be considered controversial, if not criminal, by the Taliban.
âWe all agreed not to delete, but rather to hide the most harmful content,â he says. “We thought that in Afghanistan these regimes come and go frequently, but our affairs should not be disrupted.”
He’s not too worried about being discovered.
âPeople hide guns, money, jewelry and so on, so I’m not afraid to hide my hard drives. They will never be able to find [them], “he said.” I’m a 21st century boy and most of the Taliban live in the past. “
Less than 20 years after former President Hamid Karzai made the first phone call to Afghanistan, there are nearly 23 million cell phone users in a country of less than 39 million people. But internet access is another matter: At the start of 2021, there were less than 9 million internet users, a lag that has been largely attributed to widespread physical security concerns, high costs, and lack of infrastructure development in the country’s mountainous terrain.
This is why the computer kars like Yasin can now be found all over Afghanistan. Although they sometimes download their information from the Internet when they are able to get a connection, they physically transport much of it to hard drives in neighboring countries, known as the âsneakernetâ. .
âI use the Wi-Fi at home to download some of the music and applications; I also have five SIM cards for the Internet, âexplains Mohibullah, another kar who asked not to be identified by his real name. “But the connection here is unreliable, so every month I send a 4 terabyte hard drive to Jalalabad, and they fill it with content and send it back in a week with the latest Indian movies or Turkish TV dramas, from the music and apps, âfor which he says he pays between 800 and 1,000 afghanis ($ 8.75 to $ 11).
“People hide guns, money, jewelry and so on, so I’m not afraid to hide my hard drives. I’m a 21st century boy and most of the Taliban live in the past.”
Mohammad Yasin, kar computer
Mohibullah says he can install over 5 gigabytes of data on a phone, including movies, songs, music videos, and even lessons, for just 100 afghanis, or $ 1.09. “I have the latest Hollywood and Bollywood movies dubbed in Dari and Pashto [Afghan national languages], music from all over the world, games, applications, âhe told me at the beginning of August, a few days before the Taliban took over.
For a little more, Mohibullah helps clients set up social media accounts, set up their phones and laptops, and even compose emails for them. âI sell everything from A to Z. Everything except ‘100% movies,’ he said, referring to pornography. (He later admitted that he has âfree videos,â another porn nickname, but only sells them to trusted customers.)